On the 7 October 1851 gold had been discovered at Rocky River. There didn't turn out to be much there but that didn't stop people dreaming and 'rushing' to find gold themselves. In 1852, the first licences to prospect were taken out and by March 1853 the authorities had issued 538 licences. Panning and cradling were the most common methods of extracting the gold from the wash-dirt.
By the end of 1854 there were reported to be some 500 people working on the goldfields. A census in June 1854 reported that “there were 86 tents on the field and a population of 350, comprising 193 Males, 58 Females and 99 children”. Until 1856 the gold field at Rocky River was small and of comparatively no importance to the remainder of the country.
It was not until February 1856, when someone called John Jones discovered a few specks of gold lying in the impression made by a cartwheel, that the field acquired greater recognition. Jones’s discovery led to the sinking of deep-lead shafts on what is now called Mount Jones. The new find on Mount Jones attracted a great number of people to the diggings.
It was late in 1856 that Rocky River had its greatest population with some 5,000 inhabitants, after which the population decline was gradual. The landscape bears numerous scars to remind us where the 5,000 pioneers toiled in the hope of making their fortunes. (Source : extracted from article by Arnold Goode www.uralla.com/gold-at-rocky-river-53.html)
(photo : "Gulgong Mine, NSW" From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository)
On a previous blog (week 73) I explained that Jane's recently widowed mother, Mary, had followed Jane to Australia with three other of her eleven children, arriving in Sydney in January 1855. I have never been able to get to the bottom of why she should have uprooted from Blighty but my current working assumption is that it was something as simple as wanting to visit her daughter.
I have tried to do a timeline of the facts that we know and, although the following is slightly speculative, it does fit the facts and is my best guess at the moment.
I believe that as soon as Mary and her three children arrived in Sydney they probably all travelled the 100 miles north to stay with Jane in East Maitland who we know was living there as this was where she gave birth to their first child, Mary Ann, on 2nd May 1855. As Mary left England on 28th September 1854 it is unlikely she knew of Jane's pregnancy when she left ....... but just about fits if communication had been possible in those days.
Soon after then, perhaps in April 1856, the now bankrupt John must have taken the decision to take his wife and young family 200 miles north to Rocky River, where gold was the potential prize but at the very least he would find work and he could try to make a living for his family. We know that Jane's 61 year old mother must have gone with her ........ did she go in order to help look after the baby who wasn't yet a year old ? What we don't know is whether any of the other siblings went as well but my guess is they stayed in Maitland.
Jane's second baby, John Stanley, was born on 22nd October 1856 in Rocky River. This means she must have been pregnant on the trip north and, as there was no roads as such, they probably travelled by cart which can't have been terribly comfortable for Jane. A minister taking roughly the same journey in 1854 said they arrived “after a week's tedious journey, driving a buggy and pair from Maitland, over bad roads; rivers with no bridges, no culverts; no brakes for vehicles, the only substitute being a sapling tied to the back of the vehicle when going down hill."
Having arrived in Rocky River the conditions must have been tough to say the least and certainly unhygienic.
While living at Rocky River they almost certainly lived in tents. Although the area is quite flat, it is high above sea level and can get snow in winter. It would have been freezing most of the year and would have been a pioneering way of life. There would have been plenty of timber to build dwellings and burn fires to keep warm but it would have been a hard life. Dysentery was a common killer as it was in the UK, mainly because of the lack of knowledge about public health and methods of treatment. Quite an adventure for even a young fit couple ......... let alone a 61 year old grandmother.
Mary lies in the old Uralla cemetery in an unmarked grave after being moved with all the other graves the short distance from Rocky River.
As if her mother's death wasn't enough, their second child, John Stanley died a few weeks later on 5th February 1857.
The special correspondent of the Armidale Express newspaper (quotes in purple) reported the violent death and made a number of insinuations against John Noble and those who went to rescue the deceased, who was a German named Heinrick Dirks. The correspondent claimed that if reasonable prompt assistance had been rendered to the unfortunate man by his mates his life would have been saved.
He said the claim in which Mr Dirks worked was that of Mr Noble on the side of the new ridge. The drift there is not so loose as in some places on the flat but it is said, by those connected with the claim, that the deceased had put some bark up against a prop and piled headings against, that the weight of which forced the prop from its place so that the cap and some branches, along with drift, came violently down on the back of his neck, and he was unable to extricate himself. He claims his cries might have been heard for several minutes after, but that his mates fled to the bottom of the shaft, and either one or all got handed up by the man at the top.
It is reported that when the individual who at last released the body went down, he found the way pretty clear right up to the unfortunate man and was able to extricate him with little difficulty. Life was then just ebbing away and by the time the deceased was taken to the top of the lift shaft he was dead. In regard to the period during which he remained in the fatal situation some say a quarter of an hour, others longer.
He goes on to say in the article that diggers are slow to work new spots – they are truly gregarious; when an individual pioneer happens to hit upon anything in a fresh place, hundreds rush together to the spot and mark out claims far and near, as in this instance.
- Instead of a prop and cap falling, eight sets of timber fell, which sustained at least fourteen feet of the tunnel.
- One of my mates was down assisting until the body was taken out.
- At the request of the diggers that came down to assist, I went up your shaft and down the adjoining one, as the tunnels of the two were opened into each other, and by so doing we could reach the place where deceased was without crossing the falling ground, but the tunnel in the adjoining shaft had likewise fallen, and stopped the passage.
- The body was not extricated until half an hour after the accident, and was then quite dead.
GENTLEMEN – In an article in your last paper your special correspondent severely blames the conduct of the mates of the deceased Heinrick Dirks, for not being prompt enough in rendering him assistance. So far from this being the case, I found, on going below immediately after the accident, both his mates there, and in attempting to get to where he was, had been nearly caught by a second fall from the roof, and it was still falling after I went down.
It is not true that the poor man’s cries were heard for several minutes after he was covered. From the position in which he lay it was impossible he could utter any sound to make himself heard. If he had, there was no one there could have a better opportunity of hearing him than myself. I also distinctly assert, as far as my judgement goes, that life was quite extinct when Dirks was released.
Perhaps farming would be a more settled lifestyle for him and his growing family ? Perhaps even more drama would be around the corner ?
Next week I will conclude this epic tale.